“I need to run to get in shape and get ready for my sport season” We here this slogan often from youth athletes and parents but it’s important to understand that “getting in shape” has to be specific to the metabolic demands of the sport in order for it to carryover to increase performance and work capacity. There is a Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands concept (SAID). Simply put if the imposed demands are long, slow distance running, the adaptation will be the same.
Let’s get some facts straight. There are no team sports where you run for miles at a time. Even if you actually “run” miles in a game, those miles are actually a series of sprints interspersed with sub maximal sprinting, jogging and walking. In the case of a rare sport like ice hockey, you actually sprint and then sit down. Running long distances does not prepare athletes for the ever changing speed demands placed on the body when playing sports. Think for a moment, it’s not sport specific training we are after but training that is specific to sport demands. Basically from a conditioning perspective the best way to condition for a sport is to mimic the energy systems of that sport. Take basketball and lacrosse as an example since the metabolic demands of these 2 sports are similar in terms of the variations of sprinting, sub maximal sprinting, jogging and walking. Makes perfect sense this needs to be specific in training. Add in that in basketball 60-70% of the movements are either lateral or backwards and this aspect needs to be factored into the training program as well.
There is another very large concept to grasp here. It is simple. Train slow, get slow. The reality is that it’s harder to make someone fast and very easy to make someone slow. If you want to get an athlete slow, simply ask them to run slower, longer. Simple. They may be in shape, but it is the wrong shape.
Another problem with too much distance running? Injuries. Approximately sixty percent of the people who take up running get injured. Those are poor odds. Add in that if caloric output exceeds caloric input, it is very easy to break muscle tissue down as a source of energy. I’m not saying that distance running is bad for everyone; it has its place to improve cardiac function and overall health but needs to be from a metabolic standpoint, the conditioning needs to simply be specific to sport demands.
Last and certainly not least, who dominates in the majority sports? The fastest athlete! The athlete with the highest vertical! Yes, conditioning matters but, train for the sport. The secondary benefit of training is that your heart rate will stay elevated so to some degree you’re getting the conditioning benefit without having to distance run. Strength train, jump, sprint through a well balanced program. Gain power. It takes years to gain strength and power. You can get in shape in a matter of weeks by playing your sport. Most kids are playing their sport at least a few times a week in the off season so strength, speed and power are much bigger concerns than conditioning since at the highest level, the differentiating factor is athleticism since everyone is highly skilled.
If you are not a cross country runner, don’t run cross country. If you like a nice outdoor run and don’t care about speed, the go for a run. If you want to get faster and get in great sport condition than train the way the best athletes train. Use a combination of strength training and interval training to prepare properly.